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No Moore trouble for Minnesota

Maya Moore initiates the drive past Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Maya Moore initiates the drive past Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Nothing seemed to be going right for Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx through the first nine games of the season. The veteran starters looked tired, the reserves weren’t contributing and team leader Moore wasn’t playing up to par. The defending champions were way off of their game. Something had to give.

They lost to the Connecticut Sun June 9, their fifth defeat out of the last six games, which put them at 3-6 on the year – their worst since 2010. Moore, who averaged around 20 points for the last four of her seven-year pro career, had bettered that mark just twice this season and was averaging only 17.5 points per game. Even more significantly, she was turning the ball over more than she ever has in her career, averaging 2.4 per game.

Was the end of an era really here? Had the “dynasty” crumbled? Were the previously-invincible Lynx really going to plummet from the top of the WNBA standings to the bottom so quickly?

Moore, Coach Cheryl Reeve and the rest of the roster were determined to prevent that scenario.

“Nothing just happens,” Moore said after a June 1 loss to Phoenix. “Just because something happens in the past gives you zero guarantee that it’s going to happen again, and you know that’s life. That’s what we are experiencing, and that’s what a new season is all about.”

“We have this group right now in this league in this moment, and all those little things we made look so easy over the years are really hard, and we’re going to have to continue to fight and work and figure out what it looks like for this group right now to get it consistently, and to convert it to wins.”

The Lynx returned home from Connecticut, and the first thing that they did was rest. The team got together and watched film, but had no formal practices for three days. Reeve could sense that her longtime core was feeling the effects of playing six games on the road in a short period of time. So after extended rest, Reeve expected the squad to come back strong for a June 13 practice, knowing the rest of the month might make or break the rest of the year.

Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore walk back to their side of the court. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

“We watched a little bit of video,” Reeve said. “We sat down and kind of said, ‘So, (opponents’) go-to player shoots when they’re open. (Opponents’) go-to player shot fakes and puts it down.’ And (that makes opponents) difficult to play against. You have to shoot when you’re open and you’ve got to be aggressive.'”

“It seems strange that you’d have to say that, but Maya wasn’t in that mode. I can’t tell you why, but I think she’s kind of recognized, it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know why I’m not, and you’re right, I am turning down some threes.’”

Minnesota beat New York convincingly that Saturday, a full week after the Sun loss, and they haven’t looked back since. Their winning streak is now up to seven, and as of Monday they are back on top of ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings.

Though center Sylvia Fowles and others have stepped up too, Moore has been the wind beneath the Lynx’s wings in their resurrection.

Over the last two weeks her minutes have stayed consistently around 30-33, but her productivity has increased. She has topped 20 points in every game of the current win streak, which included her first 30-point outing in almost two years in a home win over Seattle. She has turned the ball over just eight times in the seven games and is averaging 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Moore is also attempting more shots, as Reeve asked of her, shooting 136 times in seven games after shooting 137 times in the first nine.

“All the things you saw in the beginning (of the season were), I hate to say average – and Maya and average just don’t go together,” Reeve said. “But the level she’s playing at now is obviously what she’s capable of, and it’s great to see.”

Moore doesn’t blame her overseas play, or anything else for the slow start to the season. She said she fell into a funk around the time the season started. And she credits the week off between games in mid-June for the Lynx’s turnaround, as well as being able to play four games at home.

Maya Moore rallies teammates after a bucket. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

“A couple weeks ago, we had a few days at home,” Moore said. “I think a lot of growth took place as a team, and remembering what we do well and coaches continuing to remind me to keep looking to be aggressive. I definitely took that to heart that day in practice, and it’s just kind of continued ever since as far as the rhythm. I don’t think my mindset was significantly different. I think it was a matter of small details that translate in big ways.”  

After falling as far as tenth in league standings, Minnesota now sits in a tie for fourth place with the Washington Mystics. They face 1-16 Indiana tonight, but the big test will come Thursday against their arch rivals, the Los Angeles Sparks.

The two teams have battled through all five games of the WNBA Finals for the last two years. There was a five-point scoring differential in total points for all games played against each other until exactly one month ago, when the Sparks dominated the Lynx for an eight-point win. Now, not only is Minnesota rejuvenated, but Los Angeles has added two new players, and their reserves have stepped up to score over the last week, in particular.

“I just feel like if we can get on the same page defensively and play together, we will be good,” Moore said. “It is a good thing when we are on the same page, and we will continue to work on it this season with this group.”

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